JerShon Cobb provides hope after year off

On Tuesday, Chris Collins established lofty expectations for Northwestern guard JerShon Cobb.

On Mar. 8, 2012, Jershon Cobb provided Northwestern fans with the rare word: "Hope."

Cobb tried to lead NU past Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament, posting a career-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting. The Wildcats eventually lost, though, and left Indianapolis as a program defeated.

On Tuesday, nearly 19 months since he last graced Welsh-Ryan Arena during game time, the hope returned. And with each careful statement from Chris Collins, the message intensifies: NU's first-year head coach expects more from his players.

Cobb missed the entirety of last season due to suspension. He returns with two years of eligibility, and two more chances to define his Wildcats career.

It's not about rediscovering his old form; it's about reinvention. During the 2011-12 season, he battled complications from hip surgery—never reaching his anticipated form.

Collins established one interesting point during Tuesday's press conference: He believes in JerShon Cobb. Whether that's founded remains to be seen.

"He may be our best natural scorer," Collins said. "He may end up being our leading scorer. At the end of the day, he's going to be asked to do what key players do, and that's everything."

In 48 career games–some marred by injuries–Cobb has hardly been the paragon of offensive efficiency. He's a career 40 percent shooter, making only 31 percent of his three-point attempts. He struggled to become an effective third option behind John Shurna and Drew Crawford, with the potential showing late in that 2011-12 campaign.

Collins created this grocery list of hopes for Cobb, as though to challenge one of his starting guards. Multiple individuals close to the program have spoken to about Collins' energetic approach to practice, as he even leads film sessions. Everyone agrees that, yes, Cobb might be the clichéd "X-factor" if the Wildcats hope to sneak into NCAA Tournament contention.

"He's got great basketball instincts," Collins said. "He's got really good size for a guard. I think there's going to be times where he brings the ball up the floor."

Point guard, leading scorer, no big deal. On Tuesday, Collins stressed the importance of a "clean slate." Everyone in the starting five will earn his role through a strongly enforced work ethic. And after losing 20 pounds this offseason, Cobb demonstrated his willingness to improve—his own "clean slate."

There's minimal depth on the NU roster, with 10 scholarship players, and many of them unproven. Top players might need to take the floor for 30-plus minutes, Collins said, with TV timeouts enough rest for a team that hopes to compete against elite Big Ten opponents. Cobb's reached the 30-minute mark 10 times in his career, with any increased endurance more than welcomed.

"I'm lighter on my feet," he said. "I was carrying around a lot of weight."

Of course, Cobb struggled with being away from the team. Without he and Crawford, the team stumbled to an unimpressive season that led to Bill Carmody's ouster.

But that's in the past.

Collins: "He's hungry… Sometimes, when you get something you love taken away, you find out how much you really love it and how much it means to you. That's what I've noticed from JerShon."

Cobb: "Whatever coach needs me to do, I'm here to do."

It's the new partnership. It's one that could define the trajectory of Northwestern's season.

Looking to define his career, JerShon Cobb is back.

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